The aviation sector is a victim of its own success. The EU aviation market has brought tangible benefits to the people, with the possibility of flying more often, to more places for lower prices – and to the industry, with new business opportunities. But the exponential air traffic growth of the past few decades has created new, intertwined challenges.
We need to work on the modernisation of the air traffic management (ATM) system, to increase its efficiency and decrease its costs; we need to encourage and improve sustainability and we need to deal with the looming capacity crunch in our airports – Eurocontrol forecasts that if we do not act now, by 2035, 12 per cent of demand will not be met, meaning 120 million passengers will not be able to make their journeys.
We need to make the EU’s aviation sector more competitive internationally; and we need to do all this by maintaining the highest level of safety, where Europe is already a world champion.
Creating a single airspace in the EU through the single European sky (SES) tackles all these challenges together. Moreover, the SES contributes to key commission priorities such as growth and jobs, a more integrated internal market, and the climate goals for the energy union.
For this reason it is – and will remain – a priority for me. The aims of the SES are to improve safety tenfold, triple airspace capacity, reduce air traffic management costs by 50 per cent and reduce environmental impact by 10 per cent.
Since the beginning of the SES 10 years ago, much progress has been made, but the most important element has been our capacity to structure the change. EU aviation strategy will look to tackle all major policy issues
Managing this change is one of the most difficult tasks ahead – we have embarked on a path that will transform the way the entire aviation sector, from providers to passengers, does and understands business.
This year, for example, we have given a substantial boost to ATM modernisation through our research arm, the single European sky ATM research (SESAR) joint undertaking, which is moving from research and development to the concrete realisation of projects.
Airlines, airport operators and air navigation service providers will receive up to €3bn in EU funding through the connecting Europe facility for common projects, which are crucial to achieving the SES goals.
The modernisation of European airspace requires adapting to change at all levels, from air traffic controllers to pilots and airport operators. Our plan is to keep following the path that has been outlined since the beginning of the SES, and try to speed up the process. We have institutionalised consultation mechanisms with all the actors of the aviation sector, and we are gathering input to develop a new medium to long-term vision for the SES, along with a wider aviation strategy that the commission intends to adopt by the end of the year.
To allow the EU’s aviation sector to keep Europe connected within and with the rest of the world, and to reap its potential for growth and competitiveness, a long-term, overarching strategy is needed. In this light, the commission is developing an aviation strategy that will tackle all the major policy issues in the sector, including the future of the SES.
At this stage it is too early to know what exactly this proposal will contain. However, I believe that innovation and technology, service provision and a streamlined economic regulatory framework will play a major role in the future of the SES.
At institutional level, the emphasis on cooperation will remain strong. The new aviation strategy will be developed with the input of all interested actors in the aviation sector. To this end, a public consultation has been launched and will be open until 10 June We are looking forward to receiving valuable input.
I am sure the new strategy will also push the SES initiatives to progress further, and take us near the realisation of a true single European sky. Moreover, I expect the strategy to bring enormous benefits in terms of competitiveness of the sector, benefiting both the aviation industry and all Europeans.